Erich Fromm, fully Erich Seligmann Fromm

Fromm, fully Erich Seligmann Fromm

German Social Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Humanistic Philosopher, and Democratic Socialist, associated with the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory

Author Quotes

Guidelines for mastering the art of unselfish understanding: (1)The basic rule for practicing this art is the complete concentration of the listener. (2) Nothing of importance must be on his mind, he must be optimally free from anxiety as well as from greed. (3) He must possess a freely-working imagination which is sufficiently concrete to be expressed in words. (4) He must be endowed with a capacity for empathy with another person and strong enough to feel the experience of the other as if it were his own. (5) The condition for such empathy is a crucial facet of the capacity for love. To understand another means to love him — not in the erotic sense but in the sense of reaching out to him and of overcoming the fear of losing oneself. (6) Understanding and loving are inseparable. If they are separate, it is a cerebral process and the door to essential understanding remains closed.

A person living in this mode is not necessarily very narcissistic. He may have broken through the shell of his narcissism, have an adequate appreciation of reality outside himself, not necessarily be ?in love with himself?; he knows who he is and who the others are, and can well distinguish between subjective experience and reality. Nevertheless, he wants everything for himself; has no pleasure in giving, in sharing, in solidarity, in cooperation, in love. He is a closed fortress, suspicious of others, eager to take and most reluctant to give.

Any attempt to overcome the possibly fatal crisis of the industrialized part of the world, and perhaps of the human race, must begin with the understanding of the nature of both outer and inner chains; it must be based on the liberation of man in the classic, humanist sense as well as in the modern, political and social sense? The only realistic aim is total liberation, a goal that may well be called radical (or revolutionary) humanism.

Awareness, will, practice, tolerance of fear and of new experience, they are all necessary if transformation of the individual is to succeed. At a certain point the energy and direction of inner forces have changed to the point where an individual?s sense of identity has changed, too. In the property mode of existence the motto is: ?I am what I have.? After the breakthrough it is ?I am what I do? (in the sense of unalienated activity); or simply, ?I am what I am.?

Even if we had no theoretical knowledge about the reasons for the norms that are conducive to man?s optimal growth and functioning, experience tells us just as much as it tells the gardener. Therein lies the reason that all great teachers of man have arrived at essentially the same norms for living, the essence of these norms being that the overcoming of greed, illusions, and hate, and the attainment of love and compassion, are the conditions for attaining optimal being. Drawing conclusions from empirical evidence, even if we cannot explain the evidence theoretically, is a perfectly sound and by no means ?unscientific? method, although the scientists? ideal will remain, to discover the laws behind the empirical evidence.

If ?well-being? ? [defined as] functioning well as a person, not as an instrument ? is the supreme goal of one?s efforts, two specific ways stand out that lead to the attainment of this goal: Breaking through one?s narcissism and breaking through the property structure of one?s existence.

If a person has the will and the determination to loosen the bars of his prison of narcissism and selfishness, when he has the courage to tolerate the intermittent anxiety, he experiences the first glimpses of joy and strength that he sometimes attains. And only then a decisive new factor enters into the dynamics of the process. This new experience becomes the decisive motivation for going ahead and following the path he has charted? [An] experience of well-being ? fleeting and small as it may be ? ? becomes the most powerful motivation for further progress?

It seems that nature ? or if you will, the process of evolution ? has endowed every living being with the wish to live, and whatever he believes to be his reasons are only secondary thoughts by which he rationalizes this biologically given impulse.

Liberation has been exclusively applied to liberation from outside forces; by the middle class from feudalism, by the working class from capitalism, by the peoples in Africa and Asia from imperialism.

Narcissism is an orientation in which all one?s interest and passion are directed to one?s own person: one?s body, mind, feelings, interests? For the narcissistic person, only he and what concerns him are fully real; what is outside, what concerns others, is real only in a superficial sense of perception; that is to say, it is real for one?s senses and for one?s intellect. But it is not real in a deeper sense, for our feeling or understanding. He is, in fact, aware only of what is outside, inasmuch as it affects him. Hence, he has no love, no compassion, no rational, objective judgment. The narcissistic person has built an invisible wall around himself. He is everything, the world is nothing. Or rather: He is the world.

That we want to live, that we like to live, are facts that require no explanation. But if we ask how we want to live ? what we seek from life, what makes life meaningful for us ? then indeed we deal with questions (and they are more or less identical) to which people will give many different answers. Some will say they want love, others will choose power, others security, others sensuous pleasure and comfort, others fame; but most would probably agree in the statement that what they want is happiness. This is also what most philosophers and theologians have declared to be the aim of human striving. However, if happiness covers such different, and mostly mutually exclusive, contents as the ones just mentioned, it becomes an abstraction and thus rather useless. What matters is to examine what the term ?happiness? means?

The full humanization of man requires the breakthrough from the possession-centered to the activity-centered orientation, from selfishness and egotism to solidarity and altruism.

The goal of living [is] to grow optimally according to the conditions of human existence and thus to become fully what one potentially is; to let reason or experience guide us to the understanding of what norms are conducive to well-being, given the nature of man that reason enables us to understand.

This is indeed well understood by any gardener. The aim of the life of a rosebush is to be all that is inherent as potentiality in the rosebush: that its leaves are well developed and that its flower is the most perfect rose that can grow out of this seed. The gardener knows, then, in order to reach this aim he must follow certain norms that have been empirically found. The rosebush needs a specific kind of soil, of moisture, of temperature, of sun and shade. It is up to the gardener to provide these things if he wants to have beautiful roses. But even without his help the rosebush tries to provide itself with the optimum of needs. It can do nothing about moisture and soil, but it can do something about sun and temperature by growing ?crooked,? in the direction of the sun, provided there is such an opportunity. Why would not the same hold true for the human species?

This is the case in Western democracy, where political liberation hides the fact of dependency in many disguises? Man can be a slave even without being put in chains? The outer chains have simply been put inside of man. The desires and thoughts that the suggestion apparatus of society fills him with, chain him more thoroughly than outer chains. This is so because man can at least be aware of outer chains but be unaware of inner chains, carrying them with the illusion that he is free. He can try to overthrow the outer chains, but how can he rid himself of chains of whose existence he is unaware?

Birth is not one act; it is a process.

The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same forms of mental pathology does not make these people sane.

We have a literacy rate above 90 percent of the population. We have radio, television, movies, a newspaper a day for everybody. But instead of giving us the best of past and present literature and music, these media of communication, supplemented by advertising, fill the minds of men with the cheapest trash, lacking in any sense of reality, with sadistic phantasies which a halfway cultured person would be embarrassed to entertain even once in a while. But while the mind of everybody, young and old, is thus poisoned, we go on blissfully to see to it that no "immorality" occurs on the screen.

With his discovery of the discrepancy between thinking and being, Freud not only undermined the Western tradition of idealism in its philosophical and popular forms, he also made a far-reaching discovery in the field of ethics. Until Freud, sincerity could be defined as saying what one believed. Since Freud this is no longer a sufficient definition. The difference between what I say and what I believe assumes a new dimension, namely that of my unconscious belief or my unconscious striving...Since Freud, the sentence I meant well has lost its function as an excuse.

Any idea is strong only if it is grounded in a person's character structure. No idea is more potent than its emotional matrix.

Once I have discovered the stranger within myself I cannot hate the stranger outside of myself, because he has ceased to be a stranger to me.

At least two requirements are involved in the formation of a genuine conviction: adequate information and the knowledge that one's decision has an effect. Opinions formed by the powerless onlooker do not express his or her conviction, but are a game, analogous to expressing a preference for one brand of cigarette over another. For these reasons the opinions expressed in polls and in elections constitute the worst, rather than the best, level of human judgment...Without information, deliberation, and the power to make one's decision effective, democratically expressed opinion is hardly more than the applause at a sports event.

If human beings are ever to become free and to cease feeding industry by pathological consumption, a radical change in the economic system is necessary: we must put an end to the present situation where a healthy economy is possible only at the price of unhealthy human beings.

There is only one way--taught by the Buddha, by Jesus, by the Stoics, by Master Eckhart--to truly overcome the fear of dying, and that way is by not hanging onto life, not experiencing life as a possession.

The attitude inherent in consumerism is that of swallowing the whole world...Modern consumers may identify themselves by the formula: I am = what I have and what I consume.

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Fromm, fully Erich Seligmann Fromm
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German Social Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Humanistic Philosopher, and Democratic Socialist, associated with the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory